The final tribute of President George H.W. Bush’s state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral came from Bush’s Houston pastor, the Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson, Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Levenson said Bush’s arrival in Heaven would make it a “kinder and gentler” place. Borrowing an aviator’s phrase, Levenson said for Bush it is now “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited” and his is a life everlasting.
The funeral of the late President George H.W. Bush of Houston — who died December 1 at the age of 94 — was marked far more often by humor than maudlin sentiment. The Bush’s eldest son—former President George W. Bush—remembered how when his father was 90 and in the hospital his best friend, former Secretary of State James A. Baker, snuck a bottle of Grey Goose vodka into the hospital room to go along with a steak from Morton’s. Bush also noted that when his father and mother first moved from the East Coast to Odessa, they lived in a house where they had to share a bathroom with some “ladies of the night.” Throughout his life, “dad could relate to people from all walks of life,” Bush said. “He valued character over pedigree.”
George W. Bush momentarily broke down when he recalled his father’s loss of his daughter Robin and how much he loved holding the hand of his wife, Barbara. He was “the best father a son or daughter could have,” Bush said. He recovered to say he knew his father was once again “hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand.” He was the last person to speak to his father before his death, having called in on a cell phone. Someone held the phone to the elder Bush’s ear. “I said, ‘Dad, I love you. You’ve been a wonderful father,’ and the last words he said on earth were, ‘I love you, too.'”
Bush also spoke of his father’s sense of humor and the way he shared jokes via email, many off-color. “He placed value on a good joke. That’s why he chose Simpson to speak,” Bush said.
Earlier in the ceremony, former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming had entertained the funeral service with stories of President H.W. Bush’s sense of humor and high character. “Those who travel the high road in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic,” Simpson said. The best example of Bush traveling that high road was his decision to break his promise of “Read my lips: no new taxes.” The bipartisan budget deal that required a tax increase happened because Bush knew it was the right thing to do for the country, Simpson said. “O.K., go for it,” Simpson said Bush told then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. “But it will be a real punch in the gut.” The Republican Party turned on Bush and he lost his 1992 re-election. Simpson said Bush knew it was a tough choice “for the country, not me.”
Not long after Bush became president in 1989, he attended a NATO meeting, recalled former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The prime minister of Iceland delivered a speech that seemed to go on without end. Once finally over, Bush told Mulroney he had learned a basic element of international diplomacy. Bush said, “The smaller the country, the longer the speech.”
Mulroney went on to list what he believed were Bush’s great accomplishments as president: the reunification of Germany; putting together the Gulf War coalition against Saddam Hussein to “punish an aggressor and defend the cause of freedom”; the North American Free Trade Agreement to open up markets in Canada, the United States, and Mexico; passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and environmental regulation to end acid rain. “There’s a word for this, and it’s called leadership.” Mulroney said that with Bush, world leaders always knew they were dealing with a man who was “distinguished, resolute, and brave.”
Biographer Jon Meacham said Bush once met a boy in Poland with leukemia, the same disease that had taken his daughter Robin. Bush, who was then vice president, started crying. Feeling unable to turn to the television cameras and let the world see the tears in his eyes, Bush kept looking at the boy, hoping that he knew he loved him. Bush “was a loving man with a big, vibrant, loving heart.”
Meacham said Bush’s life story almost was over before it began. As a Navy aviator during World War II, Bush attacked a radio tower on the island Chichi Jima and was shot down by antiaircraft fire. He tried to give his two crewmen an opportunity to bail out before he did. On the way out of the plane, Bush hit his head on the tail, gashing it open. When he landed in the sea, he realized he was the sole survivor of his aircraft. Overcome, Bush wept. He had survived by God’s grace, Meacham said. “The rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of salvation on that distant morning.”
The morning began with the late president’s body being removed from the U.S. Capitol, where he had lain in state in the rotunda. President George W. Bush, as Texas governor, used to say the Bushes are stoic people who do not wear their emotions on their sleeves. But his lip quivered and he fought back tears this morning as a military honor guard brought his father’s body out of the U.S. Capitol for the final time. A military honor guard held the late President George H.W. Bush’s casket at the Capitol’s entrance as a Navy band played Hail to the Chief! and a group of howitzers blasted out a 21-gun salute. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, stood with in a line with his siblings, hands over their hearts, to salute their father, the 41st president. To Bush’s right were his sister Dorothy and brothers Neil, Marvin, and Jeb, the former governor of Florida.
During the funeral, George W. and Laura Bush’s daughter Jenna Bush Hager read from the Book of Revelation, 21:1-4, 23-25. Neil Bush’s daughters Lauren Bush Lauren and Ashley Walker Bush read Bible verses Isaiah 60:1-5, 18-20.
A Coast Guard band greeted President Bush’s body at the Washington National Cathedral, again playing “Hail to the Chief!” Inside, the dignitaries await Bush included President Trump and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Others in the gathering included President Bush’s vice president, Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney, who was H.W. Bush’s secretary of defense and later served as W. Bush’s vice president. Former Democratic Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore also were present. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, also was there, as well as Prince Charles, the heir-apparent to the throne of England. As he entered the Cathedral, President George W. Bush shook hands with President Trump, the former presidents, and all the first ladies.
The State Funeral for President George H.W. Bush began around 11 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral. State funerals were held in the Cathedral for Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1969; Ronald Reagan, 2004; and Gerald Ford, 2007. President Woodrow Wilson was interred in the cathedral in 1924. Wilson is the only U.S. President buried in Washington, D.C. Presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The final tribute to Bush came from his Houston pastor, the Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson, Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Levenson said Bush’s arrival in Heaven would make it a “kinder and gentler” place. Borrowing an aviator’s phrase, Levenson said for Bush now has “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited” and a life everlasting.